31. Parent Requests, Part Two

If you are a good parent, you want to do as much as you can to make life go well for your child. If we didn’t have schools, and the custom was to hire a teacher to teach your child, you would probably be pretty picky. You would want a teacher who shared certain values with you, and seemed to have the characteristics you think are most important for your child.
You get to choose your child’s doctors. If you don’t like a certain doctor, you have many alternatives (unless your health plan limits you). And for a reasonably healthy child, I think a teacher is more important than a doctor. And so sending your child to school is an act of supreme faith.
As a teacher – the same teacher who wrote last week’s article – I am opening Pandora’s box by writing about this from a parent’s perspective. But the issue is always there, and a parent’s point of view deserves to be aired in public.
As a parent, I remember the first and only time we made a request. It was my second year as a teacher in Wellesley. Our children were not in the Wellesley Public Schools at the time, but we were still nervous about the disturbances we might cause. The person we ended up speaking with knew the superintendent of schools in Wellesley, and let us know about that early in the conversation.
Our daughter had been placed with a teacher whose personality intimidated children. My use of the plural “children” lets you know right away that I was in touch with other parents. I did not want my daughter in “that class,” with “that teacher.” There I was, a young teacher, unsure of myself, disapproving of a veteran teacher. And I was a young parent. In fact, I was fewer than twenty years beyond the time when that teacher could have been my teacher. I think I may have been slightly afraid that she would punish me for complaining.
I think we acted in our daughter’s best interest. Our daughter was moved into another class, with a teacher who enjoyed her, listened to her, and sent her home smiling, full of stories about the day. Probably there was some discussion among the teachers about the new parents in the neighborhood who were already making trouble. We didn’t mind; we wanted our daughter to be appreciated, and now she was. We wanted her to enjoy school, and now she did.
I don’t think it would be good for a school to open up class placement to parents. It would be instant chaos. Class placement would become a political/social issue. Rumors would create a “best” teacher for each grade level. Children who needed “structure” would end up with the teacher who had managed to seem more “structured.” That class would be hard to teach because of the number of children with attention problems. Diversity is important in a classroom; it allows for more varied modelling. Too much attention to parent requests makes diversity more of a challenge.
But that’s when I’m thinking like a teacher. As a parent, I am glad my daughter’s first year in school gave her good feelings about school.

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